Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Architecture and Modern Development

Chelsea Barracks is a huge cleared space on the left. On the right is the beautiful classical 18th Century architecture of the Royal Hospital and the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary which has recently been completed in complementary style
I am a great admirer of architects, and count some of the best ones as friends (Adrian Gale and Wilkinson Eyre) but the profession's outrageous reaction to the re-thinking of the Qatari development in Chelsea following the objections of the majority of local residents and of course Prince Charles, has been shocking. As a member of the Civic Society, I was happy to read this excellent piece* by Griff Rhys-Jones on his blog and who helps greatly to rebalance the debate towards the sensible and reasonable:

"There is enormous pressure to build houses at present. Some very small proportion will be built by architects. The majority will be ordered up by the yard by developers and will be blank and unimaginative dormitory housing. Why there should be so much opposition to a relatively small area of genuine experiment I have no idea. The worst enemy of the architectural profession is their own sensitivity. They are mired in orthodoxy, over-defensive of their clubbish practices and unschooled in principles of either science or aesthetics. So “fake” is derided and rigorous is upheld. There is no proper absolute moral value in this. It is matter of personal taste. The notion that “truth to materials” or “honesty” is holy writ should be treated with the same searching enquiry as any other mystical pronouncement. What is important is what works, what meets human approval. There has been an era of experiment without the slightest understanding of what experiment really means. If you try a process and the result is Cumbernauld you need to try again, and blame the experiment not the result. What Prince Charles is engaged in is a true experiment. It should be seen as part of the overall move to discover what can work in any age. And it should be recognized that the pattern of building for an age is partly created out of individuality not orthodoxy. I don’t particularly like Poundbury but I like it a lot more than the vast majority of the greenfield developments that you might visit. And I recognize that my objections are based on personal taste. I find the mad mullah, heretic-burning hysteria that breaks out from architects at its mention absurd and truly dangerous to their profession."

Griff Rhys-Jones on his Civic Society Blog August 2009

*I wouldn't have included poor Shane Warne in the diatribe however.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

British Food - and Other Embarassing Observations

A lovely mapo tofu dish from Hong Kong. Photo by Kang of the London Eater blog

I often wonder how 300 years of interaction with delicious cuisines (think Chinese (via Hong Kong), Malaysian, Indian and Arabic) and living next door to (and sometimes actually in) France could have left us with nothing more than haggis, steak and kidney pie and fish and chips. (Alright, roast partridge and smoked salmon are superb, but they're not exactly everyday fare).

One answer is the incipient Puritanism that still affects many of us. But I fear that there's a deep-seated prejudice - probably originating from our being an island race like the Japanese (who suffer from similar prejudices but have created a superb cuisine nonetheless) - against assimilating other cuisines. We never married into other cultures until recently; part of the same prejudice, I suspect. Maybe the defining characteristic of the Brits is snobbery. Anyway, I'm sure Kate Fox would have it nailed.

Friday, 21 August 2009

The Joy of Fly Fishing

Fishing on the River Itchen. Photo by Derek Hampshire

I regret that I have never taken up fishing, apart from catching minnows in the Meon as a child and doing some desultory sea fishing from boats in Wales in my teens. I should have done so, particularly as we inherited my step-grandfather's rods and tackle. I always knew that he was a keen fisherman, having beats on the Bourne and the Test when he lived at Dunley, but only recently did I come across a monograph which he wrote in the thirties about some of his fishing experiences. It's a marvellous read, and the full text of it is on the Archive here. It's also been given to the Fly Fishers' Club where an old friend is Secretary.

Here are some extracts:

And then I discovered the dearest of all little rivers, the Leach, which rises among the downs and runs through Eastleach to join the Thames at Lechlade Mill. Eastleach was a much larger village in the past; there are actually two parishes Eastleach and Eastleach Turville. The two churches are hardly a stone's throw apart and the custom was to hold morning service in one and evening service in the other.

On the Leach, Haig, Downing, Bankes-Price, my eldest daughter Gladys, and I had great times. There was a good Mayfly rise and for some time before and after its appearance the Alder was very successful. Indeed, even while the mayfly was on, trout would often prefer the Alder.

As I have not kept a fishing diary, I can only trust to memory for some of the good days, but some recollections come back to me: A wonderful Mayfly rise, in heavy rain, Penson carrying a huge umbrella, pointing out the rises and laughing with delight as one fat trout after another came into the net.

Another day on the water below Arkell's when I waded a rather deep stretch of not more than a hundred yards and came out with nine good fish all on the Alder.

Still another day when my daughter, Gladys, and I got twenty-two trout before lunch an not one after, and once more when whole day's fishing had resulted in nothing up to six o'clock, then it suddenly turned cold and the fish came madly on and six brace were killed.

But every day on the Leach was delightful, whether the bag was heavy or light, and I remember every twist and turn of the stream with the regret that the fishing is no longer mine, but with the hope that my lucky successors have as good times as I had.

Here is my ideal:- to wade up a long and broad shallow in May or June, the water just deep enough to come halfway up one's thigh, and with patches of weed alternating with clear spaces of clean bright gravel; a gentle breeze at one's back, bright sunshine but with occasional clouds and a gentle shower every now and then; a rise of Olives or Iron Blues, just enough to bring the trout out from their shelters to take up feeding positions over the gravel patches, and with the light just right so that every fish can be seen.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Roses at My Window

One of the delights of summer - the early morning sun adding gold to these yellow roses at my study window